Exit the ‘ink-stained wretch’ | EDITOR’S NOTE

Editor Brian Beckley writes his last column for the Renton Reporter.

  • Saturday, December 17, 2016 10:30am
  • Opinion

This is perhaps the most bittersweet column I have ever written. That’s because after nearly four years in Renton and 16 years in the newspaper industry, this will potentially be my final column ever.

This is my last issue with the Renton Reporter. And while I will be remaining in journalism — I am moving on to work with a nationally-published business magazine — it will not be at a newspaper, which, if I am honest, is my first love.

I am what we in the industry used to refer to as an “ink-stained wretch.” I have always loved newspapers. I grew up pre-internet, obviously, and my family always subscribed to the local newspaper, the Press and Sun Bulletin. I read it every day.

When I was a teenager, I spent my summers living with my grandmother in Philadelphia and working at a law firm in Center City. Every day I had a 45-minute commute to work on public transportation and I would spend each morning reading through the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I still get the New York Times delivered every Sunday.

I initially went to college pre-law, but decided early on that was not going to be the path for me. When I really thought about it, the decision became clear: Journalism. (Again, this is pre-internet and pre-Great Recession, back when newspaper reporter was still a viable, growing profession.)

I threw myself into journalism classes and soon discovered my natural tendency to question everything — especially authority — and my ability to properly construct a sentence (thanks, mom!) were a perfect fit. I still remember very clearly answering a question about the role of a journalist on my first or second day of Journalism 101 and having the professor — herself a reporter at the Albany Times-Union — telling me “If you stick with this, you are going to be very good at this job.”

Soon after, I was tapped to be News Editor at the Albany Student Press. During my time we broke a major story about allegations of abuse on the girls crew team. I was hooked.

After a brief foray into the world of cubicle farming while my punk band was still touring (journalism is not the kind of job that will guarantee weekends off…), I started my career at a small newspaper outside Albany called “Community News.”

It was trial by fire. I started Monday as the only reporter and was required to have multiple stories ready for the page by Wednesday afternoon. The adrenaline rush was great and I fell in love with both the byline and the ability (and responsibility) to demand answers from those in power.

I moved to the Seattle area in 2002 and got a job at the Puyallup Herald soon after. From there it was to the Bonney Lake Courier-Herald. After a few years I joined Sound Publishing at the short-lived Sumner Reporter, which was combined with the Courier-Herald when Sound bought the CH a year later and I was traded to the Kent Reporter for a box of pens and photographer to be named later.

From Kent it was back to the CH, eventually working my way up to Interim Editor, before being promoted to Assistant Editor in Renton in early 2013 and then to Editor in July of that year.

So as you can see, newspapers have been my life. I love being a reporter. I love asking questions and challenging power. I love helping to spread important information and I have always loved the peak behind the curtain that the press pass allows.

I will miss it greatly. Traditionally, I have been more connected to the city I am covering than the one where I live, which is what has made my experiences here in Renton so special. Being editor of the newspaper in the city where you live is something of a reporter’s dream come true. I said that in my introductory column more than three years ago and it is every bit as true today.

I will miss covering the first football games of the year and then going to graduation in June. I will miss being there for the opening bell of the Farmer’s Market, getting to walk down the docks and talk to the guys setting up the fireworks for the Fabulous Fourth, the midday Seahawks Rallies at City Hall and, of course, being there for the annual arrival of Santa.

I will miss visiting schools and senior centers to talk about journalism and newspapers. I will miss judging Reflections program, presenting the Renton Reporter People’s Choice Curvee Award and being able to write the questions for candidates during debates.

But when an opportunity to move to the next stage of your career presents itself, sometimes you have to be ready to jump out of your comfort zone and carpe that diem, you know?

But I still believe in newspapers and you should too. There is nothing more important to our democracy than the freedom of the press and the ability of working journalists to ask questions and hunt for answers.

And I feel like it is more important now than ever.

I am very proud of the work we have done at the Renton Reporter during my time at the helm. We have not been perfect (sorry about that front page headline last week) and we have not accomplished everything I hoped we would, but we have done good, important work and winning two Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Awards in three years will forever be a highlight of my career.

I will also miss you, the readers. We do what we do for you. This is not a glamorous or particularly profitable profession. We do this to tell the stories of our community, to make sure the people have the best information they have to make decisions about their city and to help you keep an eye on your elected officials. I always tell young reporters that our job is to go to these meetings and ask these questions because our readers have busy lives and can’t do it themselves.

Again, we don’t always get it right, but we try.

So I implore you: Support your local newspaper. We are a small business in this city like any other, doing our professional best. We do not have an agenda beyond bringing you the news. Support businesses that advertise with the Renton Reporter and urge others to do so. Newspaper are vital to democracy, especially in small cities like ours as the major metro dailies re-focus their coverage within city limits.

On a high note, my leaving the paper does give me the opportunity to get involved in my city in a way I could not as editor. My wife and I are not moving (I do love living in this city) and I hope to be more active in city politics and events now that I can have a public opinion again.

So thank you to Sound Publishing for the opportunity to sit in this chair and to write these stories. Thank you to regional editor Dennis Box and former company vice president Josh O’Conner for believing in me and trusting me in this role. Thank you to Dean Radford for showing the way. And thank you to Leah Abraham, whose youth and energy made this past year one of the most fun of my career.

Finally, thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for writing (even when you disagreed) and thank you for commenting. Thank you for caring.

I’ll see you around, Renton. And for the first time maybe ever, you won’t get ink on your hands after you shake mine…

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